OCZ Goes Barefoot Again & Scores

Every once in awhile we kick off a review with a little historical background of the company and/or product to help put things in perspective for the reader. This may be met by some with a rolling of the eyes but nevertheless, we’re going to start this one off with a little bit about OCZ. There's a reason for this so hang with us here. The vast majority of people reading this will probably remember OCZ as a company who primarily dealt in computer DRAM memory products for many years, eventually offering a smattering of other components and accessories like power supplies and flash drives. OCZ was quick to jump in and embrace the SSD market, being one of the pioneers in that arena which eventually led to them eschewing their other products to focus solely on SSDs. Legit Reviews has followed OCZ closely through all those years and provided coverage for a number of important milestones in their history.

OCZ has been rather aggressive with their product releases in the past, relying on speed to market to drive sales. While this really helped propel them as a leader in the industry, OCZ took a lot of flak from time to time about buggy firmware and frequent firmware updates to fix said bugs. Even so, through their helpful customer support and high-performance drives they've managed to capture a significant market share and sell a lot of units. Recently, OCZ's CEO Ryan Peterson stepped down and was ultimately replaced by the current CEO Ralph Schmitt. Ralph has his work cut out for him as OCZ tries to boost their profitability and reverse the slide of their stock that's reached record low levels. A difficult task indeed as competition has reached a peak and margins on SSD sales are extremely thin as a result.

OCZ Logo

Why do I point this out? Because I'm already feeling a change at OCZ (for the better in my opinion) and it's somewhat ironic that this comes at time when they launch a new drive with the moniker of Vector...as in trajectory or bearing (although we confirmed the naming really has nothing to do with the company's direction). It's actually similar to Vertex (the first Indilinx drive) in name and has the same geometry theme. Generally, we receive marketing and/or informational material with our review samples to assist in the review process. The feel of this was bit different than those in the past with a lot about reliability, stability and quality and less about speed, speed, speed. My perception is the focus has shifted from getting the fastest product out as quickly as possible to getting a more thoroughly tested, high quality product out the door. Given the level and breadth of competition out there now, this is surely a wise and prudent direction. To that end, they've told us their focus is shifting away from the more value oriented products to the high performance/enthusiast and enterprise products with the highest levels of quality.

OCZ Vector 256GB

Enough of the background and our observational musings and on with the real star of the show - the new Indilinx Barefoot 3 powered Vector series. If you're the SSD savvy type, you may know the Indilinx branded Octane and Vertex 4 drives were actually Marvell based controllers with custom Indilinx firmware. Not so this time. The Indilinx Barefoot 3 is 100% OCZ in-house hardware and software. In fact, the entire drive is OCZ fabricated with the exception of the IMFT NAND as we'll see when we peek inside. The 6Gbps interfaced Vector carries some hefty read/write maximum specifications at 550/MBs and 530MB/s respectively with IOPS to match at 100,000/95,000. Although yet to hit shelves, the MSRP OCZ has relayed for each is as follows: $149.99, $269.99 and $559.99 for the 128GB, 256GB and 512GB drives.

OCZ Vector Series Features and Specifications:

  Vector 128GB Vector 256GB Vector 512GB
Seq Read (MB/s): 550 550 550
Seq Write (MB/s): 400 530 530
4k Rnd Read (IOPS): 90,000 100,000 100,000
4k Rnd Write (IOPS): 95,000 95,000 95,000
MSRP: $149.99 $269.99 $559.99
Part Number: VTR1-25SAT3-128G VTR1-25SAT3-256G VTR1-25SAT3-512G
OCZ Vector 256GB Box

OCZ also changed the design of the packaging and the graphics adorning the drive a bit which helps set it apart from previous OCZ drives. The blue and black color scheme are attractive yet business-like and belies it's thoroughbred nature. The drives are 7mm in height so there won't be any issues with fit if trying to drop one in most laptops and ultrabooks.

OCZ Vector 256GB Contents

Along with the drive comes the usual OCZ branded 2.5" to 3.5" adapter plate, a newly designed OCZ SSD sticker, and a small brochure about the Acronis True Image software complete with serial number.

A Look Inside The Vector

This is where we get to see what makes the Vector tick and if it has any surprises in store.

OCZ Vector 256GB Open

As usual with OCZ drives, no security screws, plastic clips, or fuss to open the case. Just four small Phillips head screws and one warranty void sticker and we're in. Note the thermal pad that rests on the controller attached to the back plate.

OCZ Vector 256GB PCB

On this side of the PCB we notice right away the OCZ branded flash modules and one cache chip off to the side.

OCZ Vector 256GB NAND

While the screen on the MLC chips reads OCZ, it's actually 25nm Intel/Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) NAND flash - the one component not manufactured by OCZ. However, OCZ did point out to us that they purchase and package the NAND wafers as a cost savings measure to make the drives more affordable for the consumer. The part numbers read M2502128T048SX22.

OCZ Vector 256GB PCB

Flipping the PCB over, we see the remaining NAND chips, another cache chip and the Indilinx controller.

OCZ Vector 256GB Cache

Also Micron in manufacture is the DDR3 cache chips at 2x 256MB that help buffer data when need as found on nearly all drives outside of those with SandForce controllers. The FBGA part number is listed as D9PFJ that can be plugged into their part decoder which is very helpful for when you need to get more information about a component.

OCZ Vector 256GB Controller

Finally, the Barefoot 3 Indilinx controller bearing part number IDX500M00-BC. This 100% OCZ designed controller is capable of some impressive performance as we'll see in the benchmarks. It does so without the use of any compression techniques, which affords performance consistency. In addition to handling wear-leveling and error correction duties, it supports the TRIM command and uses efficient garbage collection algorithms - all of which have been designed to keep write amplification low, effectively extending drive life. Most importantly, OCZ was very candid about their "lengthy and robust" testing validation cycle along with data and feedback collected from a large network of beta testers when developing the Vector series. On top of that, each drive is vigorously tested with a demanding burn-in procedure. They've also said that firmware cycles will be longer with increased scrutiny and validation prior to releases. Again, if you read the introduction, this is not the type of thing we've seen from OCZ in the past and as indicative of the paradigm shift that has occurred.

Test System & Comparison Drives

Legit Reviews Test System

All tests were performed on a fresh and up-to-date install of Windows 7 Pro x64 with no other applications running while using AHCI mode set through the BIOS. Synthetic Benchmarks were run with the OS loaded on a 40GB Corsair Force SSD. In between every test, the test drive was secure erased using OCZ's own toolbox application. As such, all results should be indicative of optimal performance. All components were set to their default speeds and are listed below.

LR Test Bench

P67 Test Bench

Intel LGA 1155 Test Platform
Component Brand/Model Live Pricing

Processor

Core i5 2500k

Motherboard

ASUS P8P67 Deluxe

Memory

Crucial 2 x 2GB  PC3-10600

Video Card

Gigabyte GeForce GT 430

OS Drive

Corsair Force 120GB (FW 2.4)

Power Supply

Corsair HX1000

Operating System

Windows 7 Pro 64-Bit

Comparison Drives & Other Models We Have Tested

Since there are so many SSDs out there now with different controllers, we started a reference table of which controllers are used by each drive to help you compare results. Different controllers definitely perform differently and each has various strengths and weaknesses. Like CPU's, even identical drives will have variations in performance and part of that variance may be attributable to the NAND flash used. Since the tests of the drives listed have spanned different test benches and represent different interfaces, we have listed the most recent ones for easy reference.

 SSD MODEL
CONTROLLER(S) TRIM? Interface
Samsung 840 Series 250GB
S4LN021X01-8030 Yes SATA III
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB
LAMD LM87800 Yes SATA III
Intel 335 Series 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Strontium Hawk 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Corsair Neutron 240GB
LAMD LM87800 Yes SATA III
ADATA SX900 128GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Crucial V4 256GB
Phison PS3105-S5 Yes SATA II
Kingston SSDNow V200 128GB
Toshiba (JMicron JMF66x) Yes SATA III
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
SanDisk Extreme SATA 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Mushkin Chronos 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Vertex 4 256GB
Indilinx Evertest 2 Yes SATA III
Vertex 4 512GB
Indilinx Evertest 2 Yes SATA III
Micron P400e 200GB
Marvell 88SS9174 Yes SATA III
Kingston V+200 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
RunCore Pro V 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Intel 520 Series 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Samsung 830 Series 256GB
S4LJ204X01-Y040 Yes SATA III
Corsair Force GT 180GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Corsair Force GT 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Samsung 830 Series 256GB
Samsung S4LJ204X01-Y040 Yes SATA III
OCZ Octane 512GB
Indilinx Everest
Yes SATA III
Corsair Force 3 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
Super Talent TeraDrive CT3 64GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
Kingston HyperX 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
Corsair Force GT 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
Patriot Pyro 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 480GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)x4
Yes PCI-E
OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OCZ Agility 3 240GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)
Yes SATA III
OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 120GB
SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) Yes SATA III
Crucial m4/Micron C400 256GB
Marvell 88SS9174 Yes SATA III
Corsair Performance 3 Series 128GB
Marvell 88SS9174
Yes SATA III
Intel 510 Series 250GB
Marvell 88SS9174
Yes SATA III
Plextor M2 Series 128GB
Marvell 88SS9174
Yes SATA III
* TRIM is not supported due to the RAID controller.

CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2 Readout:

For the OCZ Vector 256GB drive, the readout on CrystalDiskInfo 5.0.2 shows that both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled, as well as TRIM and the interface is confirmed at SATA III (6Gbps). This is a great free tool to see lots of detailed information about the drive such as the firmware version for which we are running the latest available at the time of testing (10200000).

CRYSTALDISKINFO

OCZ has their own toolbox for having a look at the detailed drive information, updating firmware and performing secure erase functions. While not as robust as we've seen with other companies, it works well and is east to navigate and use. There aren't many SSD makers who offer such as tool so simply having one is a plus.

OCZ Toolbox Secure Erase

Let's look at some benchmarks...

ATTO & AS-SSD Benchmarks

ATTO v2.47

ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5KB through 8192KB transfer sizes with the total length being 256MB.

ATTO - Intel P67 Platform

OCZ Vector 256GB ATTO

Benchmark Results: Right off the bat, the OCZ Vector drive flexes it's muscles as it puts up the best write score to date and very much near the top read score as well. While ATTO generally offers the best case scenario performance for a drive, it's always nice to see the manufacturer specifications exceeded, even if by a little. The smaller sized files show very strong scores as well.

OCZ Vector 256GB ATTO GRID

AS-SSD (1.6.4237.30508) Benchmark - Intel P67 Platform

We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from two of them.

OCZ Vector 256GB AS-SSD

Benchmark Results: Knowing in advance that the Barefoot 3 controller didn't rely on compression to boost write speeds, we assumed scores on this benchmark and CrystalDiskMark would be good and we certainly weren't disappointed. It posted the best overall score as well as the best write score we've seen from single SATA 6Gbps drive. The Corsair Neutron GTX is very close in performance as well which is going to be a recurring theme as we look at performance.

OCZ Vector 256GB AS-SSD GRID

OCZ Vector 256GB AS-SSD

Benchmark Results: Further evidence that the drive is data type agnostic, we see the compression graph lines as flat as we've even seen them with very little variation throughout.

CrystalDiskMark and PCMark 7

CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) for the last listed benchmark score. This can skew some results in favor of controllers that also do not support NCQ.

CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1 x64 - Intel P67 Platform

OCZ Vector 256GB CRYSTALDISKMARK P67

Benchmark Results: We see nearly identical scores here for the OCZ Vector drive as we did on the AS-SSD benchmark. Very strong!

OCZ Vector 256GB CRYSTALDISKMARK GRID

PCMark 7 Professional - Intel P67 Platform

PCMARK 7 Pro

We are continuing to use the new PCMark 7 software since they have updated it to version 7 which is specifically designed for Windows 7. It measures the performance of the latest PC hardware across a variety of common scenarios. PCMark Vantage 7 supports both system level and component level benchmarking and comprises several different test suites but for the purposes of this review, we employed the secondary storage suite. The nice thing about it is that you can submit your scores online and compare against others.

OCZ Vector 256GB PCMARK VANTAGE

Benchmark Results: PCMark doesn't give as much separation between the drives but can be a good indicator of weak spots. No weak spots here that we can see.

OCZ Vector 256GB PCMARK VANTAGE GRID

Real World & IOPS Tests

File Copy Times Via Teracopy:

One of the most common operations performed on a PC is moving/copying files. Using a free application called Teracopy, we copied large numbers of two file types from one folder to another on the same drive. Teracopy allows us to objectively measure the time of transfer and using the same drive prevents other devices from tainting the outcome. The operation requires the drive to perform both sustained read and writes simultaneously. The first set of files is a 5GB collection of JPG's of variable size and compression levels with a few movie (.MOV) files thrown in for good measure since most cameras now take video as well as stills. The second is a collection of MP3 files of various sizes which totals 5GB collectively. These file types were chosen due to their wide use and mixture of file sizes and compression levels.

OCZ Vector 256GB MP3 Copy

Install Results: Corsair and OCZ already have a rivalry and now they're both putting out some impressive drives that are very close in performance as you see here in this real world test.

OCZ Vector 256GB FILECOPY CHART

Windows Boot Times Via BootRacer:

Windows start up/shutdown time is always something people are interested in and we haven't done it in a while because there was little variation with the majority of the SSDs. We recently began using an application called BootRacer to objectively measure the startup times of the drives. All of the instances of Windows were identical and freshly installed with only the video driver installed.

OCZ Vector 256GB Bootracer

OCZ Vector 256GB Boot Chart

Test Results: Boot times are near the top as well. Pretty soon we'll switch to the newest version of BootRacer which will provide times in fractions of seconds and help segregate the scores a bit.

IOPS Performance - Iometer 2010

IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second - for the layman) performance is something SSD makers tout quite a bit but we generally don't do a lot of IOPS testing because frankly a lot of users can't relate to IOPS metrics as well and it tends to be more meaningful to the enterprise/server crowd. Still, it is another indicator of performance and while some drives post good MB/s numbers, their IOPS scores aren't always commensurate.

OCZ Vector 256GB IOPS

Test Results: Again, the LAMD powered Corsair Neutron GTX dukes it out with Indilinx Barefoot 3 of the OCZ Vector with very similar performance characteristics but the Vector ekes out a better overall result.

We'll wrap this with a look at the total drive capacity and our final thoughts.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

The OCZ Vector 256GB yields 238GiB available to the user in Windows. The difference being the change in measure from GB (1GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes) to GiB (1GiB = 1,073,741,824).

OCZ Vector 256GB Properties

Ever since OCZ purchased Indilinx, we've been waiting for them to leverage the brand's technology to put out a difference maker. Since the last branded Indilinx controller was eventually revealed to simply be a Marvell controller with custom firmware, there were rumors and speculation that a true next-generation Indilinx controller may never see the light of day. Thankfully for consumers, it has made an appearance and really gives the existing controllers some fierce competition with amazing performance. OCZ's renewed commitment to stability, reliability and quality - helped along with nearly all components and software under OCZ's oversight - make the release a compelling event and perhaps hindsight will eventually show this to be a pivotal point in the company's history - especially if they can get their books far into the black.

OCZ Vector 256GB Indilinx Logo

While we've only had the Vector 256GB drive with the Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller for a short time, we are very impressed with what OCZ has done. While 550MB/s reads and 530MB/s writes doesn't break new ground with a number of drives on the market that match these specifications, the trick is to hit these throughputs, or close to it, consistently. We know that the SandForce controllers really take a performance hit on incompressible data but not so with the Barefoot 3. With it, we saw very consistent performance across various benchmarks across all file sizes. The Corsair Neutron GTX drive also does very well across data types with its Link_A_Media Devices (LAMD) LM87800 controller, but doesn't appear to be quite as strong with the smaller file sizes. Samsung's controller is also a very strong contender but doesn't quite put up the raw numbers that the Vector and Neutron GTX does. It looks like it's time for Marvell to step up their game and we're still waiting for Intel to release their own homegrown next generation consumer SSD controller.

OCZ Vector 256GB Barefoot 3

Of course, similar to the LAMD controller, this is the first time the Barefoot 3 will be set loose in the wild. Even though OCZ has done extensive testing including leveraging an array of beta testers, it's always an unknown when you start putting it on the myriad of hardware combinations found on consumer machines. We had no issues on our test bench and frankly on the rare chance issues do creep up, it would likely be minor and easily fixed with a firmware tweak. OCZ does offer a generous 5-year warranty which further demonstrates their confidence in their manufacturing and software engineering quality. In all likelihood, this drive will end up in my personal system so I can see how it performs over time and if any anomalies surface during longer term real-world use.

OCZ Vector Logo

As an enthusiast drive and what would now be OCZ's flagship drive, the price reflects as much. The 250GB drive we tested is slated to carry an MSRP of $269.99 which works out to be $1.13 per usable GB and is slightly above where we can find the Neutron GTX of the same capacity. Obviously OCZ is ramping up production on these and as they do, they'll be able to offer a lower price point. Certainly cheaper drives can be had with many well below the $1/GB mark, but none of those will offer the performance of the Vector Series. Actually very few drives available will. Given OCZ's new strategy, we don't expect to see a more value oriented version soon (if ever) so if this drive intrigues you (as well it should) don't wait for its little brother. Overall, the Vector Series drive is quite impressive and with OCZ having exclusive rights to the controller and fabrication, it places them in very select company. We've already said on several occasions that we expect to see attrition in the SSD market soon, starting with those that are simply offering re-branded drives and we expect that OCZ won't be one of the companies without a seat when the music stops.

OCZ Vector 256GB

With the SATA III interface effectively being maxed out, the focus is going to start widening from the best performance to also encompass power consumption as a major factor in drive ratings. With so many users migrating from desktops to laptops, the reduction of power draw from the drive is becoming more and more scrutinized. While power consumption is decent on the Vector Series - an improvement from the Vertex 4, it would be one area where we would expect to see improvements going forward. In comparison to the Vector Series, the Samsung 840 Series drive we just looked at uses 2.18W less power in an active state and 0.858W less in an idle state. That's huge. Granted there is a sizable performance difference as well, but it illustrates how much opportunity there is for improvement. Until then, CES is right around the corner and we look forward to seeing what new and exciting SSD products await us!

Legit Bottom Line: OCZ has finally pulled the cover off of their very own Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller found within their new Vector Series drives and appears to have hit a home run with very fast and consistent performance.

LR Editors Choice